Friday, December 2, 2011
“Putting the Family Last.” (WARNING: Major Rant Ahead).
By Jenny Wynter from comicmummy.com
FOR THE RECORD…
I was a Vegetarian for 7 years. During this time, I noticed an interesting, if slightly irritating, phenomena.
When certain people would discover my lifestyle of choice, they would leap to a, shall we say “offence as defence” strategy of listing all the reasons why eating meat was better for you and the many foibles of vegetarianism.
I was at first, rather perplexed by this. Namely cos I could not have given a flying f whether they ate meat or not. Seriously. I was not there trying to convince anybody to come across to my way of life, I was simply living it the way I wanted to. I could not understand why people would take such offence to my lifestyle, to the point where they felt compelled to present their own case to bring mine down and prop their own up.
This week, I noticed a similar phenomenon in Planet Parenting.
In light of me having just completed a 2-week stint in the USA while my kids were here in Oz with their Dad, I was accused of putting our children last.
I was mad.
Here we go…
1. Saying You’re “Old Fashioned” doesn’t make “Sexism” acceptable.
I have friends whose partners have spent weeks away working, while they stayed home with the kids. I also have friends who have travelled abroad with their little ones, leaving the male partner behind.
I have zero problem with either scenario, by the way.
What I have a problem with is when somebody implies that the kids being apart from Mummy for a couple of weeks is so much worse than being apart from Daddy. Is the daddy-child bond unbreakable? Is it only the mummy-child one that is susceptible to damage?
What a crock.
It peeves me no end that if it is the man being separated from his child, nobody bats a freaking eyelid, or if they do, it’s a super-mild bat. A tiny flutter.
But the moment that a MOTHER dares do the same, even if it is an irregular occurence (I, for instance, certainly don’t jet off to LA every month), then she is subject to “I think you’re taking a real risk with your children,” or “You’re really hurting them by doing that,” or even the well-intentioned “I could NEVER leave my kids for that long!” Good for you. I respect your feelings. But just because I can, doesn’t make me less of a parent than you.
I have also heard this: “Well, I just believe that the mother is the most important one. Call me old fashioned….”
You know what?
Unless you wear curlers to bed, dress up in Pinafores and quote “Little House on the Prairie”, I’m not gonna call you “old fashioned.”
I’m gonna call you “sexist.”
2. My Way Is Not Best (and neither is yours)
Like with the Vegetarian stuff, I have never tried to imply that my parenting way of life is in any way better than anybody else’s. I’m not on an evangelical mission. I don’t work for Amway (though given our bank balance lately, I am considering it). All I’m doing is living my life the way that’s right for me and my family. And you know what I believe? THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO DO PARENTING.
I could seriously not give a stuff about how you parent. I draw the line at abuse, naturally, but short of that, whether you’re stay-at-home, working mama, part-time mama, part-time working mama, single, married, whatever, what business of it is mine? I trust that you’re doing the best you know how, as am I. We’re all messing up. We’re all succeeding. Whatever.
What I cannot abide, however, is judgement, that I believe stems from insecurity about one’s own mode of parenting.
Whether it’s judgement from the stay-at-home mother who is threatened by the idea that somebody else could actually leave their children for that long, because that might mean that actually, she could too and that her personal sacrifices are actually for nothing. Therefore, she instead tells herself that “that person’s children must be really being damaged,” so that she suddenly feels better about her decisions and sacrifices. She is validated.
Or whether it’s judgement from the working mother who is threatened by the idea that the kids might be better off with a stay-at-home parent, because that might mean that actually, her family sacrifices for her career are damaging. Therefore she tells herself that “my kids love daycare” and “that mother’s life must be so boring” so that she suddenly feels better about her decisions and sacrifices. She is validated.
Regardless of what your own situation is, ENOUGH WITH THE CRITICISING OTHERS TO VALIDATE OUR OWN CHOICES!
Whichever point of view you come from, anybody judging anybody else’s “putting the kids first/last” is essentially saying the same thing: “If that person is doing things so radically differently from me, then surely their kids (or the mother herself) must be getting messed up in some major way that I can feel at liberty to criticise, so that then I feel better about my own clearly superior choices?!”
If you need validation for your own parenting, or your own life, via way of putting down other people’s, then I am sorry. But YOU are the one with the issue.
3. Implying That “Leaving Your Kids With Their Dad is Neglectful” is an INSULT
For the record…
When I leave, my kids are with their DAD. He loves them. JUST AS MUCH AS I DO. I am not shipping them off to some unknown promised land of abuse, I am not abandoning them never to return, I am leaving them under the supervision of their God-given PARENT who LOVES them and to whom I shall RETURN with much gift-giving, celebration and awesomeness.
To imply anything otherwise is unbelievably insulting and again, sexist.
Again, I point out: I know countless Dads who have spent significant (and regular) time away from their offspring for work reasons. Nobody seems to ever question this. I have NEVER heard anybody even utter for a moment “Wow, those poor kids.” “Oh, I could NEVER do that!” or “That is such a risk to take.”
Yet the moment a mother dares do such a thing, oh my word.
My husband, bless his darling soul, also finds this incredibly insulting. Is he such a dreadful parent that leaving our darlings in his care for even a couple of weeks is neglectful?
Again, I really do believe that such criticism just reflects on the accuser. What is it in themselves, in their own parenting, in their own life, that makes them feel better by denouncing the choices of another family who does things differently?
Would their own partner be such a horrifying choice as a primary care-giver?
(If so, I am sorry. That sucks.)
4. Just because somebody’s life looks different from your version of ‘putting family first’, does NOT mean they’re ‘putting family last’.
I do not put my family last. I have made countless sacrifices to put them first.
Does that mean that I will say no to incredible opportunities that arise? No.
Does that mean that they are first every single hour of every single day of every single year? No.
But most of the time? Yes.
Case in point:
I live in Caboolture. CABOOLTURE. No offence to the place, but this is NOT my habitat of choice. And that’s saying a lot. I love flannel as much as the next bogan.
But this is where my hubby has found his dream job, in which he is unspeakably happy. My kids are at a school which is utterly fantastic for them. If it were up to me, I would live…pretty much anywhere else. Okay, I draw the line at Timbucktoo, but only cos the immunisations look scary.
This is the most tangible sacrifice I make, day upon day, to put my family’s wellbeing first.
To insinuate that by taking the odd segment of time here and there to pursue opportunities that are elsewhere is somehow neglectful is ridiculous. It is insulting. IT IS UNTRUE.
If and when I have to answer to anybody about my choices, it will be to my family. And though I’m sure I’m making tons of mistakes along the way, I know I have done my absolute best to love them the best way I know how, while doing what I need to do in this life. Because, shock horror, I believe that my needs are worthy too. And I believe that I am setting a great example for them to pursue their passions in life. You don’t have to believe that, by the way. You are more than welcome to your own beliefs and values on this front.
At the end of my life, I will face my family with my head held high. I know I am a great parent. I don’t need anybody to tell me that I am.
What I do take issue with is the implication that I’m a BAD one just because I am pursuing some big dreams at the same time, dreams that occasionally take me away from them.
If you think negatively of me because of that, or any other parent doing things differently from you for that matter, then I challenge you to really ask yourself point-blank:
What is it inside YOU that is finding this so hard to cope with?
Jenny Wynter is a comedian, cabaret performer, writer and mother of three. You can find tales of her attempting - with varying amounts of success and glorious failure - to juggle motherhood with a globe-trotting performance career at www.comicmummy.com